Effectiveness and Availability of Treatment for Substance Use Disorders
- Dominic HodgkinDominic HodgkinThe Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University
- and Hilary S. ConneryHilary S. ConneryMcLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School
Drug and alcohol use disorders, also called substance use disorders (SUD), are among the major health problems facing many countries, contributing a substantial burden in terms of mortality, morbidity, and economic impact. A considerable body of research is dedicated to reducing the social and individual burden of SUD.
One major focus of research has been the effectiveness of treatment for SUD, with studies examining both medication and behavioral treatments using randomized, controlled clinical trials. For opioid use disorder, there is a strong evidence base for medication treatment, particularly using agonist therapies (i.e., methadone and buprenorphine), but mixed evidence regarding the use of psychosocial interventions. For alcohol use disorder, there is evidence of modest effectiveness for two medications (acamprosate and naltrexone) and for various psychosocial treatments, especially for less severe alcohol use disorder syndromes. An important area for future research is how to make treatment more appealing to clients, given that client reluctance is an important contributor to the low utilization of effective treatments.
A second major focus of research has been the availability of medication treatments, building on existing theories of how innovations diffuse, and on the field of dissemination and implementation research. In the United States, this research identifies serious gaps in both the availability of SUD treatment programs and the availability of effective treatment within those programs. Key barriers include lack of on-site medical staff at many SUD treatment programs; restrictive policies of private insurers, states, and federal authorities; and widespread skepticism toward medication treatment among counseling staff and some administrators. Emerging research is promising for providing medication treatment in settings other than SUD treatment programs, such as community mental health centers, prisons, emergency departments, and homeless shelters.
There is still considerable room to make SUD treatment approaches more effective, more available, and—most importantly—more acceptable to clients.